Here at TrekSumo we focus mainly on hiking and running, but over the years I’ve completed a number of expeditions to extreme destinations. I’ve moved this post from my personal blog as it deserves a little more attention than it gets.
Trying to come up with North Pole expedition cost analysis is nigh on impossible unless you know exactly what kind of journey to plan. Right now, there are a number of options to choose from, including: a flight to the North Pole, a full distance ski, last two degrees and last degree ski to the North pole.
If you have the skills and money you can plan a skiing expedition that doesn’t require paying a polar guide. But this kind of expedition can cost hundreds of thousands of euros. All costs are in Euros as that is the currency accepted by the various parties and companies we’re going to look at in this article.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re planning a last degree expedition to the geographic north pole. Whilst not the most expensive option, current prices are around 40,000 Euros ($23,000). That’s a pretty expensive adventure holiday. Now factor in the price of flights up to Svalbard, an island in the Arctic Ocean where most of the polar guides base themselves during the polar skiing season.
Note: if you’re looking to simply ski within the Arctic Circle, you could take a guided ski across the island. At over 500km long and with weather that is comparable to that on the polar icecap it’s a tough expedition. And far cheaper than a last degree ski.
What is the Last Degree?
To aid navigation, our green planet has been overlaid with a grid that allows for very accurate tracking of any object crossing the Earth’s surface. The system is broken down into degrees, minutes and seconds. Rather than give you the full run down you can read more on longs and lats here, but, basically, each division is one degree, a distance of 60 miles between each degree.
The North Pole Last Degree, one of the most popular tours on the ice, covers a distance of 60 miles. Actual figures may vary depending on the weather and ice conditions on the polar ice.
How Safe is the Journey?
If you want safe, don’t ski to the North Pole! Joking aside, most of your North Pole expedition cost is used to fund flights onto the ice cap, your equipment and guide. In addition, you’ll get expedition support from the crew at Barneo ice station. This temporary base built by the Russians is a key factor in ensuring skier are safe and can be extracted in an emergency.
Unless you’re skiing self-supported, your skiing expedition will be guided and overseen by a fully qualified IPGA (International Polar Guide Association) guide. Every guide has passed a rigorous selection course that ensures they have the necessary skills needed to take teams safely through extreme cold environments.
Every polar guide I know has completed a self-supported, full distance ski to either the North or South Pole. One, Audun Tholfsen, was presented the Shackleton Award for an epic 1400 km ski from the North Pole back to Svalbard.
Eric Phillips, owner of icetrek.com and one of a small number of Master Polar Guides certified by the IPGA, had this to say about the guides who successfully complete the training: “With many demanding polar expeditions under their skis, Icetrek’s polar guides are among the best in the world. For our North and South Pole trips we only hire IPGA Polar Guides or Master Polar Guides, recognised as industry leaders when it comes to managing ski journeys to the ends of the Earth.”
It’s fair to say that polar guides can’t protect you from every eventuality. Polar bears roam the ice cap as they search for food. From time to time the ice breaks up and, if you’re massively unlucky, a rift might open up under your tent. And then there’s the constant threat of frostbite. But your guide has a wealth of experience and every precaution is taken to ensure you’re safe on the journey. Besides, a little bit of excitement adds a real buzz to the trip…
Where Does the Journey Start?
All teams first fly into Longyearbyen, Svalbard. This is the same place you’ll depart from when you head up to the polar ice cap.
Expect to spend at least a week in Longyearbyen. Be warned – even if you have booked ahead, you’re going to pay a premium to stay in the town. The average cost of a room in Mary-Ann’s Polarrig – a favourite with the guides – will set you back around 150 Euros per night. To be fair, the food is good and the owner, Mary Ann, is an interesting character whose life-story is told in the many photographs of herself that adorn the walls of the hotel.
Whilst you’re in Longyearbyen I recommend you get out and explore. Practise skiing with a pulka. Camp out for a night. Learn to operate your equipment in the cold and whilst wearing gloves. This phase of the journey is a great way to acclimatise to the conditions you’re going to experience up north.
In recent years many of the flights north to Barneo ice station have been delayed due to the weather conditions. Russian engineers are responsible for building aircraft runways and Barneo camp. Back in 2016 they teams built three runways and each one broke up due to warm weather conditions melting the ice and destabilising the ice cap.
Your north pole expedition cost can quickly snowball if you’re going to spend a long time in Longyearbyen. I recommend choosing a hotel and booking a room for a couple of weeks – you pay only for the time you stay.
I highly recommend Russki Dom. The rooms are relatively cheap and very comfortable. They don’t serve food, but there are plenty of places to eat in the town (check out the world famous ‘Svalburger’ from the only bar in town, the Svalbar).
When the big day comes, you’ll board a Russian Antonov passenger aeroplane and fly from Svalbard airport to Barneo. Take some time to appreciate this feat of engineering. The teams who build it start with axes, hammer and crowbars, clearing as much ice as possible until the bulldozer is dropped in.
After a quick safety briefing, you’ll be flown out to the start of your last degree ski. At this point all thoughts of costs and delays will be forgotten. Now it’s just you, your team and miles of ice. No matter what the length of your expedition, enjoy it. For most this is a once in a lifetime experience and one not to be forgotten. P.S. Take lots of photos because you don’t want to forget on memories like this…
The Full Cost of Skiing the Last Degree
Prices for each expedition are set by Barneo. As at 2020 you can expect to pay the following:
Last Degree ski: 40,000 Euros
Last Two Degrees ski: 50,000 Euros
Flights to Svalbard: 1500 Euros
Hotels (assuming a minimum one week wait before heading up to the ice): 1000 Euros
Food (both in the hotel and town): 200 Euros
Extra gear (because when you see the outdoor gear shops in town, you’re going to feel the ‘need’ to buy): 500 Euros
Equipment (assuming you have none): 1000 Euros
Overall, about 45,000 Euros (cost for the 2020 season. Prices rise every year)
What’s Included in the Expedition Price?
I’ve taken this info direct from the IceTrek website (the tour company owned by Eric Philips):
- Welcome dinner in Longyearbyen
- Longyearbyen local ski training
- All plane and helicopter flights associated with the expedition program
- Food and stove fuel during the expedition
- Icetrek guide(s)
- Use of specialist equipment including tents, sleeping bags, sleds, skis. This equipment is returned to Icetrek after the expedition (see equipment list)
- Safety/navigation/communications equipment
- 40kg weight allowance (inc. food and group equipment)
- Expedition blog including updates and live tracking
- Satellite telephone call from the North Pole or Barneo (2 mins)
- 20% discount on selected Icetrek Equipment
Conclusion: North Pole Trip Prices are Costly
As you can see, this is what one of my skiing companions called, “An expensive holiday.” For me it wasn’t a holiday. Instead this was a rekindling of my love of the extremes. Since then I’ve gone on to ski across Norway, twice. In 2018 I joined some former Army colleagues and skied across Greenland. This latter journey were nowhere near as expensive as the North Pole ski because we guided ourselves.
When you look at the North Pole expedition cost example above, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an expensive journey – it is. The world is warming, the ice caps are melting, and more and more people want to experience them before they are gone. If you can’t fully fund the journey yourself think about sponsorship (which I’ve covered in another post).